Posts Tagged ‘sign language’

Deaf Awareness Week 2013

With Deaf Awareness Week 2013 coming to an end, social media has played its part. In addition to the usual communication tips (these are especially noteworthy and humorous 1 2 3)  there have been significant news events circulating the internet.

3 topics that have got people talking:

1. Comments on The Guardian’s article: ‘Lack of British Sign Language interpreters putting deaf people at risk“.

2. Gerry Hughes returns from his solo voyage. (metro) (bbc)

Animation by Amy Dawson

3. Rocky Horror BSL Flashmob

Here at Stage and Sign we love a flashmob! Especially one that is based on a musical and very especially one that includes BSL. Lauren Harris arranged this crazy, sexy fun for an interpreted performance. Join the Facebook event for videos and pictures, read the article via Limping Chicken.

So this post involves no original content but it’s all about sharing. Happy Deaf Awareness Week to all.

Tanika’s Journey – Deafinitely Theatre

Picture from Deafinitely Theatre’s Facebook page

Ever since enjoying Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost involving their use of visual signed language I have been eagerly anticipating this performance and was hoping for more of the same, I was not disappointed. Before attending a show I prefer to remain uninfluenced and have avoided reading reviews and the comments rapidly spreading on the social networks. Considering the buzz around Tanika’s Journey, it has not been easy!

It was my first time attending Southwark Playhouse so I had the glorious advantage of enjoying this unique space as a blank canvas, not imposing any previous ‘ghosts’, memories or feelings ‘The Vault’ may contain. My journey from the cosy bar to the performance space mimicked that of stepping through the wardrobe to Narnia. I was immediately immersed into a world, somewhere far away, I carefully trod through snow, pushing bare tree branches aside in a quest to find my seat. Whilst convention often dictates I should passively sit and fulfill my role as a ‘good’ audience member, a feeling in my belly told me otherwise, I cast my eyes across at the rows of audience sat opposite. Some were chatting in hushed tones, some were signing and some were just sat, but I sensed we were each pieces in a snow globe waiting to be shaken up at any second.

The performance began and I was plunged in to the harsh weather conditions of a Ukrainian forest. Southwark Playhouse was warm but I found myself tugging at my sleeves of my jumper and popping my coat across my knees. As the story unfolded I laughed, cried a little and smiled a soft, heartfelt smile. Now, I could dissect why this performance had this emotional impact on me. For one, the acting was excellent, the set, sound and lighting remarkably clever. Ultimately what made this performance great was simply beautiful storytelling.

How key storytelling is to great theatre and Deafinitely Theatre certainly did a fantastic job of it!
Now off to finally read those reviews.

Tanika’s Journey is on at Southwark Playhouse until the 20th October 2012. For more info visit Deafinitely Theatre’s website here.

Pictorial BSL – The pros and cons

Recently there has been outrage from the deaf BSL using community over OFSTEDs use of pictorial “BSL translation”.

OFSTEDs "BSL translation"

Bloggers @DeafFirefly and @Limping_Chicken have written responses to this alleged accessibility which are certainly worth a read.

OFSTEDs major error is in their lack of understanding of BSL as a language. I’m sure the document was created with the best intentions, perhaps a level 1 BSL student decided to try and introduce accessibility. After all it was clearly created by a hearing person, where are our deaf representatives in OFSTED?

For those feeling confused, lets be clear in the definition of BSL. BSL is a language, it has its own grammatical structure. It is a visual language that relies on movement, lip-pattern and facial expressions to convey meaning. It can not be written down (unless you are an artsy type trying to translate songs or scripts in which case you may write your own version of written BSL that no one else in the world would really be able to understand!) BSL is not a communication aid, deaf people do not descend into a game of charades every time they wish to converse.

What OFSTED can do as second best to a BSL video is write in plain/basic/simple English which is free from jargon, double negatives and the complexities of the English language. This is deaf accessible and also beneficial for people whose first language is not English.

A previous BSL teacher of mine who shall remain nameless once expressed his dislike for BSL dictionaries, especially the cartoon ones as they often depict more “baby sign” than actual BSL. One example of this is the sign for home.


In BSL the sign for “home” is different from the sign for “house”; it is directional depending on whose home you are referring to and to sign the verb “to go home” in any tense is a different sign altogether.

However, I do believe there is a place for pictures of signs and the use of basic signed vocab. Posters are often seen in educational establishments. I recently ran a drama workshop in a primary school where the pupils knew how to sign “good morning” and practised this on a daily basis. Lovely!

Just a while ago, I was looking through some photos of a trip to Paignton Zoo. I love holidaying in the UK, it can be much cheaper than heading abroad and reminds me of the beauty of this country that we can often overlook due to our busy lives. But my leisure time preferences are neither here nor there, what I did come across was these signs displayed around the zoo.

I personally think it’s fantastic that BSL vocab is getting this exposure. Also CBeebies characters such as Mr Tumble and others created by children’s TV actor Justin Fletcher are using signs to teach and communicate to children.

There is an increasing popularity in baby sign as it has been proven that babies can communicate through signs before they can use words and as a result of all this a form of “children’s sign” has developed as a communication aid and is being widely used.

There is a place for this, I don’t think we should discourage children from using signs but it needs to be understood, especially by government service regulators that this is not BSL. With the introduction of the BSL GCSE children would be able to use their knowledge of vocab from primary school and progress to understanding BSL in secondary school. Let’s keep our toes crossed that the GCSE will be implemented.

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Missing Something British

I hope you have all enjoyed your long Jubilee weekend eating scones, getting rained on and partying in the street.

Everything quintessentially British. Although one uniquely British element was lacking, the visibility and promotion of British Sign Language.

On a positive note, accessible events were held in the Capital. Remark! in conjunction with the British Deaf Association hosted a street party on the corner of Leather Lane/Greville Street, whilst Terptree provided interpreters for the festival in Hyde Park. So fun was to be had by the London Deaf community and those wishing to travel to Lizzy’s home for the weekend.

However, I spent Monday evening, slobbing on my couch, watching the Jubilee Concert and browsing Facebook. It came to my attention that the televised event could have been made not only more accessible but more visually beautiful by including some of the great deaf sign song performers of this Great Britain such as Caroline Parker, Daryl Jackson and Jayne Fletcher.

Since 1992 every American NFL Super Bowl has has an ASL performed National Anthem of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Whilst this signed song provides access for deaf Americans across the entire United States there is also a sense of American pride that Brits could learn from.

With the wonderfully creative deafie Jenny Sealey co-directing the opening ceremony of the paralympics I’m hoping to see some British Sign Language displayed with pride.

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Love Labour’s Lost

The Globe to Globe project sees the theatre staging 37 plays in 37 languages. Many cultures have been brought to The Globe Theatre to celebrate the World Shakespeare Festival 2012.

Personally, I love The Globe and I love Shakespeare. I also happen to love Sign Language so it was with utter excitement and delight that I attended Deafinitely Theatre’s production of Love Labour’s Lost.

Picture by Simon Annand via Facebook

Let me cut to the chase and say the performance was fabulous. I have never quite considered a relationship between BSL and the Bard but after having experienced a pure signed performance I can confidently say they are a potential match made in heaven.

A focus of the festival, which was highlighted by Deafinitely’s performance, was on language, in this case BSL. Sign Language was king, without the stigma of “impairment”, it did not matter if the actors were deaf, HoH or hearing, it was the language that was central to the show. The audience response strongly echoed this as tweets came flooding in such as

Hurruh to those who came with no knowledge of BSL and left with an appreciation for the richness of the language.

The cast were brilliant! It’s impossible to pick out any one exceptional performance as they were all of equal calibre.

David Sands got to do what he does best and engage with the audience in a highly energetic performance as Costard the fool. The King of Navarre was played with wonderful honesty by Stephen Collins. The Lords played by Matthew Gurney and Vitalis Katakinas had impressive energy (and equally impressive beards!) The Princess of France (Nadia Nadarajah) and her Ladies (Charlotte Arrowsmith, Donna Mullings and Patsy Palmer) portrayed the strong female characters with buckets of playfullness and sass. Brian Duffy played Boyet with fantastic physicality and Adam Bassett as Don Armado the Spaniard ended the performance with a signed poem that truly blew me away. Well done to all! A special mention must also go to the musicians who provided an aural background whilst offering comical engagement with the actors.

The translation from Shakespeare’s text to Sign was expertly done and the deaf cast performed so visually and made excellent use of the unique space that is the Globe Theatre. (A personal highlight being The King exiting the sage to the yard and crying on the shoulder of my friend’s sister.)

Picture by Simon Annand via Facebook

Ever since I was a young whippersnapper of a ‘BSL for Beginners’ student I have loved watching signed stories and found myself mesmerised by how visually descriptive BSL can be. Recently I found out about Visual Vernacular (VV) and it’s influence was clearly represented in the performance of Love Labour’s Lost. Shakespeare’s use of descriptive language made for a wonderfully visual performance that made BSL accessible to hearies (with the aid of surtitles).

The surtitled appeared on 2 screens and summarised the scene being performed in a sentence or a few words. The feedback I got from non BSL users was that they really got the gist of the storyline and I took pleasure in seeing hearing BSL students around the theatre who were clearly following the story and also picking up on some of the basic signs.

Whilst making BSL accessible to all was great, it was wonderful to see what felt like the entire Deaf Community in a packed house creating a buzzing atmosphere. Due to the nature of the theatre it was possible to sign a conversation across the Globe to a familiar face (another reason why Shakespeare and BSL are a perfect match). In my previous visits I have always enjoyed the atmosphere of being a groundling but this event without a doubt trumps them all.

Truly a historical event to remember!

Love Labour’s Lost is now embarking on their National tour, to ensure you don’t miss out check the dates and venues on Deafinitely’s website.

Help Fund Theatre for FREE!

Hello readers

It is not often I make a plea but this one I feel is deserving. I realise that by putting the word “free” in uppercase may lead you to believe I’m sneakily trying to sell you something in disguise but it is simply not the case.

Anyway I shall get to the point and waffle can ensue later.

The wonderful Handprint Theatre Company need your help in securing a bit funding, due to cuts we all know how hard it is to get funding in the creative sector but this is something you can do to make a difference. It is simple and free to do, just click here

The slight catch is you do have to sign up before you can cast your vote, which if you are like me you will be less inclined to do in fear of future email bombardment. Having signed up myself, I can hand on heart say, I have received 2 emails; 1 to confirm my username and password and 2 to confirm (or not) if I wanted to receive their regular newsletter. The newsletter subscription is a choice which can easily be declined at your desire.

And that is it! 🙂

If you’d like to know more about Handprint Theatre please visit their website (contains flash) or I can give you a brief explanation if you’d like?… Go on then.


Handprint Theatre are an accessible and inclusive deaf/hearing theatre company. I first met the founders at university whilst studying Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies, their passion for accessible theatre seems to grow stronger by the minute. In addition to devising and performing unique shows they have an active involvement in the educational sector, running workshops for children. I would have loved to be part of an integrated workshop as a child and if you agree please support the company’s growth by voting.

Enough babble. Deeds Not Words.

Poetry is Fun! Fact.

Last week I was privileged enough to get involved with some fantastically passionate young poets in ‘Poet’s Platform’ at Theatre Royal Stratford East.

My previous poetry experience is purely school day studies of the likes of Sylvia Plath; where inanimate text was meticulously dissected and analysed. For me it was not an enjoyable experience, I found accessing poetry to be static, laborious and not really on my teenage wavelength. And that was that… or so I thought. If someone had invited me to a poetry performance I would have simply and respectfully told them my hair needed extensive washing.

When I was first asked to get involved in signing some of a poetry performance I imagined a fairly slow paced, static affair, I couldn’t have been more wrong! Arriving at the first rehearsal I was blown away by the contemporary material and passion of these young poets and their art form, honestly, I left with goosebumps.

After a short, jam-packed rehearsal period, a highly physical, visual, dynamic piece was formed that completely shattered my preconceptions of poetry.

Here are some things I discovered through the short process:

  • Poetry is fun. Fact!
  • Poetry doesn’t have to be inactive.
  • Poetry can be funny (and I don’t just mean limericks).
  • Poetry truly comes alive on stage in performance.
Feedback board

The audience seemed to enjoy it, this is their response to the performance.

The show was not advertised as deaf accessible but it was great to experiment with integrating some sign language in to the performance. It highlighted a glimpse of the future potential. Although, I found my biggest challenge (apart from the time constraint) was performing in a studio space with audience on 3 sides. It was an impossible task for the audience to see all of the signs and trying to include all three sides played havoc with my BSL placement! It was indeed a welcomed challenge and an enjoyable experiment.  Whilst written/spoken poetry and BSL poetry are separate and valid art forms in their own right, I believe a fusion of the two would be exciting and I hope the theatre consider the possibility of using deaf poets in the future.

For those interested in deaf poetry, check out the links below (thanks to @DeafFirefly for the info)

If you missed ‘Poet’s Platform’ directed by Kat Francois and Deanna Roger at Theatre Royal Stratford East, 17th-18th Feb 2012 then have a look and a listen to the young people’s poetry on the theatre’s Youtube channel. And spread the word; Poetry if fun! Fact.

Deaf Awareness Week 2011

Deaf Awareness Week 2011 is from Monday 2nd May – Sunday 8th May.

I work as a BSL communicator and have currently been working in the educational sector. I come across staff and students who are unsure of how to use a communicator to converse with a deaf person so here are a few tips:

  • Always involve the deaf person and talk directly to them. This may feel a bit strange as the deaf person may be watching the communicator for the signed translation of what you are saying.
  • Don’t say to the communicator “tell her…” it should be a three-way conversation, it does require some patience but stick with it.
  • Speak clearly and at a normal pace. Speaking too slowly or exaggerating will distort your lip patterns, making you more difficult to lipread.
  • Speak in full sentences. BSL has a different grammatical structure from English so the whole sentence needs to be heard before it can be translated. Don’t panic if the communicator does not start signing the moment you start speaking.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the communicator questions about how to improve communication.
Don’t worry if you “don’t get it right” the first time. There is usually a bit of confusion and communicators are used to that. Here is a funny video of classroom confusion (Interpreters and CSW’s enjoy!)

Deaf Awareness Week 2011

There are many ways to get involved whether it is donating to a charity or learning a bit of sign language. Below I have listed a few bits of information and websites.

Deaf Council

Deaf Council are the organisers of Deaf Awareness Week. The website explains a bit about the week, also has a list of events, facts about deafness and event ideas.


The RNID has a lip reading competition. Read the one and only Richard Wilson’s lips for the chance of winning a prize.

There is also an events list and a downloadable twibbon.

Learning Sign Language

You can look up signs easily online. Signstation is one of my favourite online dictionaries (you need to register to have full access, but have no fear this does not mean you will be “spammed” with countless emails).

British-Sign is a good resource to learn some basics including how to sign your name using the BSL fingerspelling alphabet.

If you’d prefer to buy a book Deaf Books has a large range to buy and some free downloadables too, including BSL font. Check out the Royal Wedding banner that teaches you to sign “Royal Wedding. Congratulations Wills and Kate” I can’t decide if it is cool or cringey!

However you decide to take part in Deaf Awareness Week have fun and feel free to leave a comment if you learn something new.

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Laundry Boy

Face Front aim to be an inclusive theatre company that welcome a mix of disabled and non-disabled performers and audiences. Their latest production Laundry Boy lasted 75 minutes and focused on the issues and important decisions that a person faces as they enter adulthood. The protagonist – Martin, a learning disabled son of a loving mother who with the best will in the world wants to protect him from the harsh things in life, acts out his story of gaining independence. I must applaud the production for focusing on the theme of independence rather than disability. Frequently, it seems, a disabled character is put on the stage or screen and the only thing that is portrayed as exciting about them is their disability. Martin was complemented by the feisty Zoe, who’s disability was recognised, as she told Martin of her new independent flat where she had the required support, but her strong personality shone through as we watched her study, work and play. The script was written and the characters devised to really allow the audience to see past disability (but not completely avoid it) with ease.

Two narrators (1 deaf, 1 hearing) acted as “Time” and provided the BSL (British Sign Language) translation for the piece. The male Time sign interpreted the lines of the two male characters (Martin and his Dad), whilst the female Time signed for the two female charaters (Mum and Zoe.) These BSL stage interpreters were fully integrated into the action, reacting with other characters and set.

Integrating sign language, rather than using an interpreter stood at the side of the stage often makes it much easier for the audience to follow the action and BSL translation. For the most part it was clear through the BSL which character was speaking although a few issues with stage blocking and poor lighting resulted in complete obstruction or difficulty in seeing these vital characters. Although they both brought a great energy to the piece they didn’t seen to know where to focus. Sometimes they appeared to converse with each other, then projected the signs to the audience, then signed to the character they were signing for and then to the character their character was talking to. (phew!) I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong way for integrated signers to direct their focus but I think it is important to set up that convention and stick to it.

Sign names were established clearly, I believe this to be important in theatre as it removes fingerspelling (problematic to view from a distance) and tells the audience something about the character. As I entered the studio to find my seat, a young woman later to be revealed as Zoe asked me if I’d seen him (points at a picture clutched in her hands), “he’s got black spiky hair”. When Martin’s sign name was established it reflected that, adding a little something to his character.

All sound had accompanying visuals, for example as the recorded sound of a ticking clock was heard projections appeared and gobos were used to describe the sound visually. In addition to accessibility for deaf or hearing impaired audiences, Audio Description was also integrated into the piece, a beautiful moment where Martin and Zoe are in love and alone together had their actions described through a song. This integrated access not only benefited audiences with sensory impairments it also added a little something special to be appreciated by all.

The set was simple, creative and used well by the actors. Scene changes were carried out by the cast, not a problem in itself if done with purpose, unfortunately they were a bit lengthy and awkward as the actors completely broke character to move set. This meant the actors needed to work extra hard to rebuild the energy lost through the scene changes but regrettably the injection of energy was not enough and the play began to lose pace, what should have been a terrifyingly tense moment with a missing Martin lacked commitment and the spell over me was broken. This wasn’t helped when Zoe and Mum were looking for Martin, they started asking imaginary people where he was, why didn’t they go back to asking the audience? Invisible people on stage are generally a huge no and made the performance lose a professionality point.

Whilst many things were great about this production it could have done with that final polish and boost in energy, especially at the end to really make it shine.

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Integrating a Signer in Performance

Recently, I spent two weeks at The Orpheus Centre – here I should put a tag line to describe the centre for you, something very politically correct and concise. However, I’m going to go for… The Orpheus Centre – an inclusive, innovative performing arts centre and lifeskills college/a big inspiring bunch of fun! The Orpheus Centre put on a Christmas show every year that is written, designed and performed by the students. Having been involved with a few Orpheus projects over the last couple of years, I know how much fun it can be and just had to get in on the action so I volunteered to sign the songs of the show in performance.


As soon as the song lyrics were written by the students they were emailed to me so I could work on the translation. I have to admit that I may have slightly underestimated the songwriting talents at the Orpheus Centre as I gazed at the beautiful and complex metaphors on my laptop screen at home, wondering how to sufficiently do this justice in Sign Language. Nevertheless I relished the challenge and prepared myself for the two weeks of excitement of rehearsals and performances.

I arrived to meet the cast and discover who plays the various characters in the show. I asked the director if the cast could create sign names for their characters as this would be useful to incorporate into the songs but also promotes some deaf culture awareness. As the cast have been working on characterisation, who better to develop a sign name than the actors themselves. Sometimes, as a Sign Language Communicator I find myself using the same sign too often rather than expressing things in different ways. A group of performers were playing the baddies, they all came up with different signs and gestures to express their characters which furthered my understanding of this group of characters, providing the

creativity to use signs other than ‘bad’. This exercise got the performers thinking about their characters, trying to sum them up in one sign and could be useful to other theatre groups as a dramatic exercise or to aid the inclusivity of performance.

I solidified my decision to sign the songs only as all involved wanted the sign language to be as integrated as possible, meaning I would have a character and costume not just be plonked on the side of the stage. My focus was on using sign language creatively in performance to provide some access and promote deaf accessibility to an audience.

Getting Stuck In

There were rumours of a rap in the show, slightly daunting to sign but I went along to the rehearsal to hear this created for the first time. Having recently seen Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful I was inspired by the way the integrated interpreter had fun with signing Ian Dury’s anarchic songs and decided to throw myself into the spirit of things. The rehearsal, lead by a very talented musical director was such a playful atmosphere. The students and musicians experimented with different ways to structure the song, this is very different from how I remember music where things were set in stone, so many musical laws and Italian terms to obey. In addition to the musical composition, I got to observe a rehearsal of a song with unfinished lyrics. Wonderfully poetic lyric writing happened so quickly and as the signer I really wanted to do this poetry justice. Song lyrics are often difficult to translate as you have to search for the meaning but observing the lyric writing process really helped me to create some visually pleasing and meaningful signs to accompany the song in performance.

Once I had polished the translation and committed it to memory my confidence was on the rise. Now to work on giving it some oomph! I was still buzzing from Graeae’s Reasons to be Cheerful

– If you didn’t see it then you really missed out. In my opinion it really raised the bar for disability led theatre, it was just a massively enjoyable piece of theatre. The interpreter in role was fab and donned fish net tights, a tartan mini skirt and Doc Martins – a huge contrast from your standard theatre terps! She made it look so easy though so I guess the secret is to just have fun with it. Enjoy it, stay in role and hopefully that will translate to the audience, BSL users or not.
Act 1 Beginners to the Stage

The gloves are just to keep my hands warm!

As a signer it’s great when you are given a costume. However, I did feel slightly guilty taking it back and asking for some alterations,

I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. A lot of people don’t realise that what a signer wears is really important, when I started as a Sign Language Communicator my funky patterned tops were relegated to the depths of my wardrobe. So when I was given a white blouse to wear I needed to explain that next to my snowflake skin I would just be a moving white blob. The rule of thumb is to wear a plain top that stands out from your skin colour.

In performance I had some really nice interactions with the cast, which is the icing on the cake to integration. I have seen many performances where I am convinced that I have seen the occasional evil glare in the direction of the SLI as if they are competing for the audience’s attention. I can understand this, as an actor you want to captivate your audience, especially during that all important Shakespearean soliloquy. The visual language at the side of the stage can be a distraction. But tough! Both actor and SLI are professionals providing a service. I do not believe that the SLI should dumb it down so as not to interfere with the performance, that just creates more barriers, and besides, terps only terp off the energy of the speaker. Yet another challenge I came across was that the integrated signer in role needs to run off their own energy and find their own character in addition to interpreting the songs for other characters.

The Finale

The show had great feedback and tickets were sold out for almost every performance. I had a fantastic time working with The Orpheus Centre and I hope I did your show justice! I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

To find out more about The Orpheus Centre click here

A big thank you to Sarah Carew and Kai Takatsu for the use of their photographs.


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